Slate Gray February: “Rhythm in Nature” the art of Cie Hoover & Topher Straus!

Slate Gray February: “Rhythm in Nature” the art of Cie Hoover & Topher Straus!

Telluride Arts’ February Art Walk takes place Thursday, February 2, 2023. Throughout the month, Slate Gray Gallery is featuring “Rhythm in Nature,” the art of Cie Hoover and Topher Straus.

Go here for an overview of all participating Art Walk galleries. Complimentary gallery guides are available for self-guided tours, at participating venues or online at

Go here for much more about Slate Gray.

Go here for more about Art Walk in general.

Art is not about the right color on the right surface. It’s about synthesizing one’s experience,” artist Todd Murphy observed.

A notion two very different, but equally talented artists fully embody and embrace.

The work of Cie Hoover and Topher Straus reflects their experiences in the natural world, specifically the vast, wondrous western landscapes surrounding their homes. Those playgrounds are containers of all that is magical and possible for the artists, whose work is on display at the Slate Gray Gallery through February. The show is titled “Rhythm in Nature.”

Cie Hoover:

Cie Hoover, Credit: Shoutout Colorado

Artist, musician, husband, Cie Hoover lives in Ouray, Colorado. In addition to performing alongside his wife Karisa in the folk-rock duo, “You Knew Me When,” Cie has always had a passion for the visual arts. After working in the Nashville music industry for over a decade, then touring full-time for six and a half years throughout North America, credit goes to the San Juan mountains for rekindling Cie’s love for creating original works with his own two hands.

After buying and remodeling an old 1898 mining house, Cie discovered the versatility of wood as a medium, transforming his garage into a woodworking studio filled with routers, saws, and stains.

Cie now uses wood in nearly every aspect of the art he creates, from wooden canvases to carved sculptures.

A number of Cie’s pieces also incorporate the use of sound waves both as artistic elements, as well as subtle hints about what any given work of art is meant to communicate.

“My aim with my pieces is to enhance the innate beauty found in wood and to highlight the three predominant themes found in my art: Balance – as showcased through delicate sculptures; Sound – as showcased through wooden sound waves; and Nature – as showcased through various carvings of mountains and landscapes. Woodworking is clearly a tactical art form. I use it as a means to stay connected with the natural elements that surround me. To recap. Through nature I find art. Through art I find balance. And through balance I find peace.”

Rays of Light




The Balance of All Things





For a deeper dive into Cie’s work, check out his answers to TIO’s questions below:

TIO: Let’s focus a bit on your backstory. Briefly describe your life growing up. Was there anything in your background that would have suggested a career as an artist working in wood – and a musician? Anyone else in your family an artist? Or are you a genetic anomaly?

I was born and raised in Blacksburg, Virginia, home of Virginia Tech University. My parents were the type who wanted to ensure I would became a well-rounded individual, so I was active in sports, specifically soccer, and music, with piano lessons starting at around age seven. In fact, soccer was actually my primary focus for much of my youth, going from rec leagues, to traveling leagues, to state high school champs, to Olympic development programs. However, in middle and high school I always opted to take art class as one of my electives. It was then I began dabbling in fine art, but it was also around age 11 that I opted to transfer from piano to guitar lessons. Clearly I identified my inclination to be creative early on…most likely a trait I got from my mother, a very talented painter and photographer.

TIO: Are you self-taught or have you ever had formal training in your medium? And why wood? Why not paint?

When it comes to wood-working and wood-based art I am completely self-taught. My immersion in this medium came about when my wife and I bought and remodeled our home in Ouray in 2017. The house needed a lot of TLC, and I ended up doing a lot of the work myself. Through that process I started accumulating tools, and in my free time I started dabbling with various wood-based creations. Over time, and through some initial commissions from friends and family, I continued to refine my craft and my approach to making art.

Why wood, and why not paint? Well, as much as I love painting, and dabbled in it in my formative years, the connection I felt to working with wood was almost immediate. There is something unique about working with something that was once living. Even all of the splinters I’ve gotten over the years haven’t deterred me from loving the tactile gratification I get from wood. I love how every single piece of wood is unique, so even if I make similar style pieces they are all still going to be different. I find much of my art to be about enhancing what is innately there in the wood…be that by focussing on wood grains through texture or seeing a sculptural form in a trunk of wood.

TIO: Had you ever considered a career outside the arts? And how and when did you turn your twin passions into a career?

Absolutely. Growing up I felt I would go into the family business…which actually has some ties to art: it was a pigment manufacturing company (used for making paints, stains, crayons, etc…). Summers during high school I would work in the factory and would quite literally come home a different color every day. That said, high school is also, as I previously mentioned, when I really started to fall in love with music. I created a band with friends, mostly just playing in our basement and at high school talent shows, but I began to wonder what careers resided in the music realm. When it came time to start looking into college, I came across Belmont University in Nashville and discovered the possibly of working in the music business as a career. After talks and blessings from my father and grandfather I took the leap and moved to Nashville.

I ended up working in the Nashville music industry for nearly a decade…starting off as a publicist with Garth Brooks’ original manager, doing marketing and artist relations for a songwriting competition, and eventually landing a job with Gibson Guitar as their Global Event Manager. I had the joy of traveling around the world to places like Germany, Japan and Russia; doing events with the GRAMMYs, Coachella, the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame; and meeting icons like Stevie Wonder, Slash, and Dave Grohl. It was an amazing, but very taxing job. That is when my wife (who is also a public school music teacher) and I started to dabble in writing music together. Eventually we took a leap of faith, quit our jobs, and set out on the road to tour full-time and we did that for six and a half years. We visited 49 of the 50 states, traveled through Canada, living out of our van, and sometimes playing over 200 shows a year. It was during that time we discovered Sothwest Colorado, and eventually bought our home in Ouray – which ultimately led to my relatively new career of making art.

TIO: In what ways does your music inform your art work and visa versa? Or are they not at all related? After all when you put yourself out there the ways you do an element of risk is involved. In a way you are naked in front of a crowd, at least metaphorically, in both disciplines.

For me, music and art are a united pair. When creating, I nearly always have music playing. It sets the tone of the moment and helps me to focus on the task at hand…blocking out the noise of daily life so to speak. To be honest, I’m not sure I would be nearly as effective of an artist without music.

In both creative outlets there is absolutely an element of risk involved. Even though I’m introverted by nature, for whatever reason I have an innate compulsion to put my creative undertakings out into the world. I thrive when I’m alone in my workshop or when writing a song, but all of that effort wouldn’t be enough for me if I wasn’t willing to put my work out into the world. Has every instance of being “naked in front of a crowd” worked out, absolutely not, but the gratification I get when it does is definitely a driving force. To create is one thing, but to create something for others to contemplate, critique, and hopefully appreciate is something else altogether.

TIO: Compare and contrast the difference in making large-scale installations versus wall pieces.

I have a very different mindset when it comes to making large-scale installations verses wall pieces. A lot more planning is involved in the large installations, whereas many of my wall pieces allow for a little more spontaneity. I value both mindsets and each one offers unique avenues to fulfillment. For example, I’m currently in the running for a large 15-foot-tall public art sculpture installation in Greeley, Colorado. This process started with me writing a lengthly proposal, creating a detailed CAD drawing, creating a physical small-scale version of the sculpture, and now anxiously awaiting the decision. If selected, I would then not only have to create the sculpture, but would also have to go through some very stringent protocols for materials, engineering, and installation.

On the other hand, wall art is a bit more free flowing, especially my more abstract work. I tend to play around with patterns, shapes, textures, and color a lot. If I feel an approach is not working, or a piece is not turning out quite the way I wanted it to I’ve been known to wipe the slate clean and start over. But, when I find a pattern and color pallet that speaks to me, I typically know it right away. It’s fun to explore pieces this way as if offers a lot of freedom. While I definitely have developed some “signature styles” along the way it is fulfilling to implement different techniques into every new piece.

TIO: How and when did you wind up in the Telluride region?

Music led us here, but it was the sheer beauty and supportive community that made us want to call the region home. I always had a love of the mountains and Colorado as my grandparents had a place in Snowmass, but when I first came to this area I was truly awestruck. Our band, “You Knew Me When” first performed in the Telluride area in 2012. From that point on we kept making excuses to return as often as we could. Finally, after our six and a half years of living on the road and touring non-stop, we were ready to have a home life again. We bought our place in Ouray in 2017 and, while we still tour and perform, it has been nice to rediscover what it means to be a part of a real community again.

TIO: What triggers your artistic impulses? Who or what are your muses?

I would say there are three things that inspire me to create. First and foremost is Mother Nature. Be it hiking, trail running, skiing, climbing, or going on our area Via Ferratas, simply stepping outside in the beautiful southwest Colorado region we live in is inspiring. Ever since I started working with wood I look a trees and plants in a different way. I appreciate them even more than I ever did before…how every tree is unique, how every branch is a visual path, and how every flower adds a spark of color.

Getting out into nature is also not just visual stimulation for me, but it also a means to mental health and stability. I’ve struggled with bouts of anxiety and depression for the better part of my adult life. My propensity for introversion sometimes gets the best of me, but I’ve found stepping out into natural world to be a highly effective way to find balance and harmony in my life.

My second muse would be, no big surprise, music. I typically wake up in the morning, put on a cup of coffee and turn on some acoustic tunes to ease into the day. From there, I’ll have music playing for the majority of the day…be it coming up with concepts in a CAD program, or out in the workshop making sawdust. Music sets the tone of the moment and has the ability to not just let me focus on the task at hand, but also offers up inspiring and soothing moments throughout the day. My mornings usually start with artists like Watchouse, Gregory Alan Isakov, and Jason Isabell, then transition into bands like The Black Keys, Moon Taxi, Manchester Orchestra. I cap it all off with some high-energy sounds from groups like Architects, Bad Omens, and Northlane.

Finally, I draw on inspiration from other artists and woodworkers. Woodworking is an amazing craft that continues to offer me challenges to overcome and methods to learn. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve watched more than my fair share of YouTube videos along the way. Learning this way, and occasionally just going with my impulses, continues to be a fun way to explore and enhance my craft. And, of course, there are an array of other artists to be inspired by. I’ve discovered so many more incredibly talents now that I have immersed myself in the visual art realm…Slate Gray alone has introduced me to so many amazing artists I might not have been aware of otherwise like Gil Bruvel, Gina Sarro, Joseph Toney, and Topher Straus just to name a few.

TIO: What do you hope your audience will take away from your fine art?

For myself, art is about taking a moment to pause, reflect, and contemplate. A piece of art can be interpreted in so many different ways, and I find great joy in that. In my more abstract wall art and sculptures one person might get a sense of kinetic energy and calming movements, while another might take a piece more literarily and interpret it as wings or a spiraling galaxy. Of course the names of my pieces usually give a sense of what I personally see in any given piece, but I am a big fan of leaving art open to personal interpretation. If a piece of my art simply connects with a person in a significant way, then I am humbled and grateful.

Topher Straus:

Topher Straus, credit: Mastrius

Topher Straus lives life shooting for the moon. Case in point, the man’s creative influences: Matisse, Picasso – and award-winning director Robert Altman for whom Topher once worked:

In my art, I try to tell a story – create a tapestry of stories – the way Bob taught me.”

At the end of the day Topher’s spare approach to his principal muse, Mother Nature, reflects the signature economies of all three titans. His art comes down to minimal, yet essential abbreviations of his worlds, natural and urban, devoid of clutter, frontiers of joy that open up vistas we may have looked at, but not really seen.

“A large part of my art is the first step, the actual journey, experiencing nature in person – or nature in motion as it were. Whether it’s the delicate eyelashes of an elephant up-close or the continually changing hues around me, I’ve learned that all the parts create the magical whole…Growing up in Colorado and hiking and skiing the mountains as a youth, I naturally became passionate about the outdoors and preservation. It’s no coincidence I chose the iconic vistas of America’s national parks as my first major focus.”

At his second show for Slate Gray, Topher is debuting a new painting titled “Telluride Twilight” and will be introducing a new size that falls in between his Limited Edition and Original sizes. These are his Special Editions. Slate Gray will have all three sizes of the new Telluride piece.


Telluride Twilight, the new Telluride work




Rocky Mountain National Park






The Eights

For a deeper dive into Topher’s art and life, check out his answers to TIO’s qs:

TIO: It’s been a year since we last talked, so please share what was new and different since your last show in Telluride in February 2022.

So much has happened in a year!  My art has been collected by artists from all over the world – I sold over 200 paintings last year (crazy!), and several of my limited editions runs are sold out, and more are almost gone!  I’ve been so blessed to have a great team behind me, which allows me to focus more than ever on my art and creating new pieces.

TIO: You created an entirely new medium. Why? Why not just use the tried and true, like acrylic or oil?

I think it’s better to say that I’ve developed a unique style using a digital medium. My digital brush allows me to endlessly play with color, shape, and texture while re-imagining a landscape. I am constantly discovering new ways to express myself in this medium. Take a look at “Telluride Twilight” versus “Black Canyon” of the Gunnison National Park. You can see how my style changes and evolves.

TIO: Please describe your daily routine.

I’m fascinated by people who have morning routines and I am constantly tweaking mine. I wake up early at 5am so I have quiet creative time. I start every day with a gratitude meditation. I get at least one exercise routine in during the morning, then I dive into all the concepts I had been visualizing the night before in my dreams. I wrap up my day by visualizing all the paintings I am working on, looking ahead to the next day.

TIO: Please describe your innovative creative process.

My work is a celebration of nature, and being such, it’s important for me to immerse myself in the natural world as much as possible. In order to understand the rhythm of nature I climb to the top of the mountain, or board down the Plunge. I take photographs constantly, and use them to make a digital collage of what I felt during the experience. Then I start interpreting the colors and the rhythm of the colors from the experience. My process of printing on the aluminum substrate is expensive, so I’ve come up with a fun and unique way to make sure that the piece is as experiential as I intended. I study it in Virtual Reality!

TIO: Describe the intersection of your art and your philanthropy.

I think Mark Twain said that something along the lines of: there are two important moments in your life – when you are born, and when you find your life’s purpose. For me, my purpose beyond creating is giving back to the communities I adore in Colorado through the thing that I love most: art.

I have donated over $75000 in just four years to causes all over Colorado. Here in Telluride I am so excited to continue to provide a summer camp scholarship through the sale of my art at Slate Gray Gallery and by donating my teaching fee back to the school. I have supported everything from food insecurity to pancreatic research. I love to partner with my galleries to support causes in their towns, like the Ah Haa School.

TIO: How do you balance art and life?

Balance? They are one and the same. Art is life, for me, and that is why I’m able to be as prolific as I am. When I have something going on in my head or my heart, I paint it. They balance out each other naturally.

TIO: Why the switch in 2012 from advertising and video production to fine art?

I was at a juncture in my life, going through a very difficult divorce, when my son encouraged me to open my heart and start sharing my art with the world. Prior to that, no more than a dozen people had seen may artistic efforts. Once I did what my son suggested, though, there was no looking back.

TIO: Your once said: “My art is full of rhythm. I have always seen nature in a very delineated and abstract way. I don’t know of any other artist that sees nature this way.”  To me, delineated and abstract contradict one another, so please explain.

Did I say that? I  think what I was referring to is that when I view a landscape I am able to see the colors in sharply delineated shapes and contours, but when you look at my work, you see an abstraction of the actual landscape.

TIO: What do you hope your growing audience will take away from your work?

That my work is constantly evolving, and that I adore Telluride! That I want to be a part of this community and give back to Telluride as much as possible. What an honor to be a part of Slate Gray Gallery. I’m so happy to share my newest work, “Telluride Twilight,” with you all.

TIO: How would you sum up your optimal artistic legacy?

I would love to be a household name! I want to be in people’s hearts and heads. I’m so honored that people choose to hang my work in their homes and spaces. That really fills me with joy.

TIO: Around the time your new show is up at Slate Gray, you will also be teaching a class in social media at Telluride’s Ah Haa School. So how does social media fit into your story?

My work IS my story – my passion for nature, and being up on the mountain, snowboarding in the trees, biking on a ridge, or swimming in the ocean leads me to my work. Through social media, people are along for the ride on my immersive adventures, and they feel like they know me. My passion for nature, philanthropy, and adventure are as strong a part of me as my art; together they make up my instagram feed @CreativeTopher. I am humbled to have over 100,000 followers.

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